Whistler is a thriving town with many transport options. Unless you’ve lucked out and are living right in Whistler Village, you’re going to want an easy way to get to the slopes and back (or, for those making Whistler home for a while, you’ll need to organize how you will get to your place of work).
Let’s go through the options for transport in Whistler.
Get a bike (you won’t regret it)
Summers in Whistler are breathtakingly epic, and the town really lends itself to healthy zero-emission commuting. Getting a bike in Whistler is far and away the best way to get around, and you can pick up a bike relatively cheaply on the Whistler Buy and Sell Facebook group.
If you are looking to keep costs to the bare minimum, check out the very popular Whistler Re-UseIt centre at Function Junction, a stalwart among value-savvy seasonal workers. The centre is effectively a thrift store for all manner of things that new seasonal workers may need in order to get going in Whistler. Here you’ll find anything from skis to bikes and clothes.
If you’re hitting Whistler around May, don’t miss the annual Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) Bike Swap. In 2018, this took place on 12 May at Whistler’s Olympic Plaza. The Bike Swap is a huge gathering of private buyers and sellers with a huge selection of pre-owned bikes, parts and clothing at very reasonable prices.
Bottom line is nothing sets you up for the day like a leisurely ride taking in breathtaking sights like Green Lake on your way to the village, so save your pennies, get a bike and get peddling.
For those who want to go biking off-road, Whistler has the biggest downhill Mountain Bike Park in the world! As the resort becomes a magnet for downhill mountain in summer, getting a mountain bike may be the best choice if you want to go exploring. If so, check out the Mountain Bike swap Facebook page. There are also many stores in the Village where you can purchase new mountain bikes, but they will cost a pretty penny and are usually geared towards technical downhill mountain biking with full suspension setups that can cost as much as a second-hand car.
Public Transport (Transit)
The Whistler Transit system, run by BC Transit, is another inexpensive way to get round the locality. The bus system is especially handy in winter months as commuters get some reprieve from the biting temperatures. Buses can be packed in the morning with people getting to work and holiday makers getting to the lift lines, so with all that winter gear and skis on board it can get pretty crowded, but no one is left stranded. Note the schedules change based on the season, so make sure you don’t get caught out.
- To view real-time information on the next ride or to plan your journey, visit this page of the BC Transit Whistler Transit System website.
Buses even have bike racks if you’re too tired after ripping down the mountain bike trails to get yourself safely back home.
There are 12 routes serving all the major areas of the town, plus a commuter service further afield to Pemberton. Within the immediate village there is even a free shuttle. A cash fare around town is $2.50 each way (exact change only) with a monthly pass running to $50. This adds up to transit being one of the cheapest ways to get around and opens up many accommodation options further out of town. Tickets can be purchased at any number of supermarkets, the Whistler Visitor Center, HI Hostel in Cheakamus and the Meadow Park sports centre.
When choosing somewhere to live, always be sure to check out the BC Transit schedule in meticulous detail or make sure you’ve figured out whether your transport options will be reliable. Some areas of town are served less well than others, so always be mindful and do your research. For example, if you live in Emerald Estate, which is one of the furthest locations from town and has a reputation for being the least well connected, the last bus home from Whistler Village is 6:15 p.m. If you want a night out in Whistler, you’re going to be forking out for a lot of taxis and eating into your pay cheque.
Driving in and around Whistler
If you have dreams of cruising the sea-to-sky highway — a satisfyingly twisty road that connects Vancouver to Whistler and beyond — with the wind in your hair, a car is going to be required.
Perhaps you need something substantial to get your off-road fix or for carting around your paddleboard, kayak and getting to far-flung camping get-aways. There are many options in Whistler for buying a used car, but unfortunately car ownership in BC is never cheap, with insurance probably representing the bulk of your budget. Your first port of call will be to check out Moving2Canada’s guide to buying a car. Once you’ve figured out the basics, there are a range of additional online resources specific to Whistler where you can start your search for your vehicle in earnest. For example, the Whistler Car Buy/Sell/Trade Facebook group is a local fixture of the used car scene, with buyers and sellers also active on Craigslist and Kijiji.
Pro-tip: car insurance in BC is overseen by a public entity called “Autoplan” by ICBC (Insurance Co-operation for British Columbia). You should definitely pop into one of the many “Autoplan” brokers and get a quote on an intended purchase so you know exactly how much your new vehicle will cost to insure. This rarely fails to be an eye-opening experience for those new to BC (including Canadians arriving from other provinces). It may put you off buying a car altogether, and that bike you were originally thinking of will never have looked better. For example, an average five year-old sub-compact hatchback car costs around $2,500 annually to insure before any no-claims discounts. If you have a driving history from another province or another country, don’t bank on ICBC accepting this and giving you a discount. The eligibility criteria are stringent, with many requirements.
All the usual advice of ‘buyer beware’ apply when buying a vehicle, new or used. Whistlerites are a resourceful bunch, and in no time you’ll probably know at least one mechanic who can help you give your potential new vehicle the once over before you hand over any money.
Another pro-tip specific to Whistler: everyone swears that you should buy your vehicle in Vancouver and not Whistler (if I had a nickel for every time someone mentioned this to me!). This is due to the impact of the corrosive salts used on the Whistler roads in winter, which isn’t so much of a problem down in the city, which seldom receives snowfall. If you’re buying for the short term, this shouldn’t be a massive consideration.
Another anomaly of the Whistler used car market is that vehicles can magically appreciate in value with unscrupulous sellers trying to get every penny back they paid for a vehicle in the first place when they come to sell after a short time. Know your market and do your research. The mainstays of the Whistler used car market are Toyotas, known for lasting until approximately judgment day, and Subarus, known for their standard all-wheel drive and sure-footedness in icy conditions. Buyers from the UK will definitely find the used car market a lot different to back home, where most used cars can be picked up quite cheaply. In Canada, the more reliable Japanese cars hold their value exceptionally well and can still command high prices even after a few years. While a 4×4 or all-wheel drive is not absolutely necessary — and I am testament to this as I survived with a Toyota Yaris — let it be said that conditions can get pretty treacherous around Whistler. Many auto journalists also comment that a good set of winter tires (or tyres, for those used to British spelling) can be more effective than all-wheel drive in any case. Also note that in Whistler winter tires or “All Season” tires marked by the snowflake symbol are mandatory North of Squamish from October until March. If you’re thinking of skimping on good tires, be aware there are regular police checks in winter on the roadside with fines if your tires aren’t up to snuff.
A taxi to schlep you around the village is around $15.00, with several major taxi companies to choose from, including Whistler Resort Cabs and Whistler Taxi. Taxis in Whistler have ski racks, as they should!
Getting to Vancouver or Squamish
Note there is no public transit service operated by BC Transit between Squamish and Whistler. Further, by the end of October, 2018, it is planned that Greyhound will cease the handful of services it had between Squamish and Whistler as it pulls all but one route in Western Canada.
If you need to get to Vancouver or the Airport (YVR) there are a few options remaining:
Pacific Coach Lines and Epic Rides offer daily, reliable services to and from Vancouver. Pacific Coach lines also offer a service to and from YVR, which is handy if you want to avoid the city altogether and are catching a flight.
Another handy option is a ride-sharing service called Pop-a-Ride, which is highly popular among commuters in the area as the sea-to-sky corridor is the birth-place of this Canadian company (you’ll even find the CEO himself giving skiers a lift from Vancouver to the slopes). Drivers post rides for a fee and passengers reserve using an app. It’s inexpensive and works well. In fact, I used this service solidly for six months before purchasing my own car to get to and from work in Whistler as I didn’t own a car. So, car-free life is indeed possible, even if you live in Squamish.